A sign hangs from the door at Cholita Linda, an Oakland counter-service restaurant, informing customers to go next door for take out following an order for Alameda and surrounding counties to shelter in place until April 7 in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
That’s the size of California’s budget deficit due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to figures released Thursday by the state Department of Finance — a number higher than the state’s deficit during the Great Recession and a shocking contrast to the $6 billion budget surplus Gov. Gavin Newsom projected in January.
California’s unemployment rate is also projected to skyrocket to 18%.
Newsom on Thursday: “We’ll get through it by working together. … But my optimism is conditional on this: more federal support. … It is absolutely incumbent upon our federal partners to recognize … the magnitude of this moment and how it’s directly related to COVID-19, not mismanagement. … This is, again, not a red state issue, not a blue state issue. It’s tiring saying that.”
With the prospect of federal aid uncertain, California facing a massive budget shortfall and taxpayers in an especially tax-averse mood, it’s unclear how cities and counties will plug their own budget holes, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports.
1. Retail, manufacturing and logistics can reopen today; strict standards for regional variation
Today, California will officially modify its stay-at-home order after seven weeks of sheltering in place. Eligible to reopen: retail stores with curbside pickup and manufacturing and logistics chains, with the appropriate precautions. Expect masked and gloved delivery workers, contactless payment systems and lots and lots of hand sanitizer.
Newsom emphasized there is room for regional variation and counties can move faster than the state by reopening restaurants and offices. But they first have to meet pretty stringent requirements, as certified by the local public health officer and supported by the county Board of Supervisors and local hospitals and health care systems.
No more than one COVID-19 case per 10,000 residents and no COVID-19 deaths in past 14 days.
Minimum daily testing volume of 1.5 per 1,000 residents.
Testing availability for at least 75% of residents.
15 contact tracers per 100,000 residents in counties with no cases.
Ability to temporarily house 15% of homeless residents.
County/regional hospital capacity for a 35% patient surge.
2.CA lawmakers to probe Blue Flame deal that fizzled out
Lawmakers plan to hold a hearing this month to investigate California’s decision to wire $456.9 million to Blue Flame Medical LLC, a three-day-old medical-supply company, before canceling the transaction hours later — and to examine the state’s vetting process amid the pandemic, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. Republican legislators are also seeking an audit of all the state’s spending on protective masks, including the failed Blue Flame deal and the $1 billion contract California subsequently signed with Chinese company BYD.
Nine GOP legislators in a Thursday letter to the Legislature’s Democratic leaders: “We are concerned about the details of a rushed, half-billion contract to a company only days old and a price-per-mask contract with BYD that could be nearly 40% higher than what is available on the market. Rather than learning of these issues from the Administration … we are getting delayed and incomplete reports from news stories.”
3. CA community college students get emergency aid, but not from feds
California community college foundations are stepping up to provide emergency financial aid to students amid the pandemic, and many are prioritizing those ineligible for direct relief from the federal government, including undocumented and international students, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports. The foundations are helping finance food pantries, meal delivery, laptop distribution and emergency rent grants. But community colleges, which already have fewer resources than other schools, were also shortchanged in the federal relief package due to their high percentage of part-time students, receiving roughly a third of California’s higher ed funds despite enrolling nearly 60% of its college students.
Debbie Cochrane of the Institute for College Access & Success: The federal funding formula “absolutely disadvantaged community colleges where significant shares of students are part time. For community college students, it really adds insult to injury.”
4.COVID-19 patients in hospitals and intensive care units, by county
Curious how the number of confirmed and suspected California COVID-19 patients hospitalized and in intensive care units is changing over time? CalMatters data journalist Lo Bénichou has added new visualizations to our popular tracker, created by senior web developer John Osborn D’Agostino, to include those numbers for each and every county. Check it out.